Sporting a shiner under his left eye, and a spot of dry blood in between his eye and nose, Wayne Rooney took the field at practice for D.C. United on Tuesday morning, as if he hadn’t been a bloody mess after a head to head collision on Saturday night against the Colorado Rapids.
Rooney was fully involved in the practice, and had been checked for the second time for a concussion. As with his inspection immediately following the 2-1 win over the ‘Pids, Rooney once again was cleared on Tuesday, paving way for him to be fully available this weekend, when the Black-and-Red travel to take on the Montreal Impact.
“There’s not much swelling. It looks a bit worse with the black eye,” Rooney told reporters after practice on Tuesday. “But it feels fine. I’ll play as normal.”
Wayne Rooney, with repaired gash, straightened nose and black eye from head-to-head collision vs Colorado on Saturday. Says he'll be ready this weekend at Montreal. #dxu #mls pic.twitter.com/KwWiSVMbHS— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) July 31, 2018
His injury, which resulted in a broken nose and five stitches, came about on Saturday in stoppage time, during an awkward play. Tommy Smith rose up to try to win a header on a corner, and his backside hit Axel Sjoberg in the head. Sjoberg’s head then snapped back, and smashed Rooney in the face, which caused the striker to miss the final moments of the game, as he was being attended to on the sideline, in an attempt to get him back on the field.
His absence in those waning minutes didn’t affect the result though, as United were able to hang on to their late lead for their fourth win of the season.
“He doesn’t seem too bothered by it,” Head Coach Ben Olsen told reporters in a scrum after practice. “Fortunately there were no signs of a concussion.”
The game against Colorado was rather eventful for Rooney. It was his second start for the Black-and-Red, and in the 33rd minute, he netted his first goal for the club, as he slide a shot between the legs of Tim Howard. It was also Rooney’s first 90 minute performance, which the former Manchester United forward said was part of the plan for his playing time.
“We had a plan, which was important that we stuck to,” said Rooney on Tuesday. “Me and the coaches spoke about it, play part of the first game, start the second, go 60-70 minutes, play the [third] game from the bench, and then hopefully get 90 minutes in the fourth game. Which has worked perfectly.”
“I still feel like I can get sharper, but I feel like I’m ready to play in all the games.”
In all likelihood, Rooney will get another start on Saturday against the Impact. With a week between games, and another week until the next game after that, there will be plenty of time for Rooney to be 100% fit for Montreal.
Now that his fitness is about where it needs to be, the next step for Rooney and his teammates will be ironing out the details on the field. There have been bright moments between Rooney and Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad, Zoltan Stieber, Paul Arriola, and Chris Durkin. Such as Rooney’s involvement in Arriola’s goals against Vancouver, or Acosta’s assist to Rooney against Colorado.
But there have also been some growing pains, evident on Saturday, when a couple of chances went awry, as United looked to extend their lead against the Rapids.
“There have been some promising signs. We have created chances,” said Rooney. “As an attacking player, it’s nice when you’re creating chances. We know that if we keep creating chances, we’ll score more goals.”
The most important relationship in Rooney’s integration into the team might be his understanding with Acosta. United’s number 10 has been a focal point of the offense since his arrival back in 2016, but his influence has waxed and waned as the cavalry of players surrounding him have come and gone.
In supplying Rooney for the goal, it appears that Acosta and United’s newest designated player seem to be on the same page. Rooney noted that there’s a slight language barrier between the two, but that they have been able to figure out each other’s tendencies rather quickly, both on the training field, and during games.
“He’s a clever football player. I think it’s important the two of us try to feed off each other,” Rooney said of Acosta. “Because we know us two can be the ones who can win us games, especially when the games are tight.”
Saturday’s win against Colorado was just a tiny step for a team that has a lot of ground to make up if they want to make the playoffs this year. They still sit 11 points out of a playoff place, and have just 16 more games to make up the difference. With mostly Eastern Conference teams on the docket the rest of the way, it might just be up to Rooney and Acosta to get United back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“The onus is on the two of us to try to win us games,” said Rooney.